WITH words as precisely chosen as the man himself would have liked, a dignified memorial service for the journalist and author Ian Bell was held at Mortonhall Crematorium in Edinburgh yesterday.

It is the nature of journalism that its practitioners often laud the achievements of colleagues only after they are dead, but in the case of Ian Bell, the huge respect and love for him among his colleagues was evident long before he passed away suddenly on December 10 at the age of 59. Many of those colleagues past and present came to the service from far and wide, and gave Bell a fitting send-off. Among those present were BBC broadcaster Andrew Marr, a former colleague and friend of Bell’s from his days at The Scotsman, and a host of distinguished journalists such as Neal Ascherson, The National’s consultant editor Richard Walker, columnist Kevin McKenna, and the documentary-maker Callum Macrae.

Magnus Llewellin, editor-in-chief of the Herald and Times group that includes The National, led the mourners from these newspapers, while among those from The Scotsman was former editor Jim Seaton, who made Bell the paper’s literary editor more than 30 years ago and encouraged the column-writing that eventually made him famous.

Alistair Darling and his wife Maggie were in the congregation, as was the former Labour leader of Lothian Regional Council, John Mulvey. Owen Dudley Edwards, the historian and author, paid his respects to his friend, as did Bill Campbell, whose Mainstream company published Bell’s prize-winning book on Robert Louis Stevenson, Dreams Of Exile.

Also among the mourners was Alan Taylor, editor of the Scottish Review of Books, and the actor David Hayman who attended William McIlvanney’s funeral just last week.

He said outside the crematorium yesterday: “It’s been a very bad time for Scotland. To lose two friends who were such outstanding men of letters in the space of a few days is hard to bear.”

The non-religious service was conducted by former Episcopal Bishop of Edinburgh Richard Holloway and began with a tribute by Barclay McBain, deputy editor of The Herald, who mentioned the late William McIlvanney, Bell’s great friend who was best man at his wedding to his wife Mandy, who survives him.

McBain said: “Ian was a brilliant journalist. Two weeks ago he wrote in The Herald of his great friend William McIlvanney that his sentences will stand – Ian’s will, too.”

McBain recalled the precision of his journalism, and that they would often discuss the relative merits of the teams they followed – “Hibs for Ian, St Mirren for me, and he always won that one.”

He closed by describing a dream he had of Bell standing among football supporters – “standing out from people, standing up for people, always.”

Bell’s friend and colleague of nearly 40 years, the journalist Robbie Dinwoodie, quoted the song Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen, another hero of Bell’s, in reference to their youthful time together at The Scotsman.

He recalled how Bell started out as a library assistant then transferred to being a subeditor before becoming literary editor. “No-one was kinder or gentler with colleagues than Ian,” said Dinwoodie. “He was a tower of strength in his role as FoC (father of the chapel of the National Union of Journalists, equivalent to a shop steward) in dire times.”

Dinwoodie told how Bell blogged under the name Prospero, after the character in Shakespeare’s The Tempest – “Prospero used supreme intellect to work magic for the cause of good … so it was apt. Ian articulated being human.”

A deeply moving personal tribute to his father was paid by Sean Bell.

He said: “My family and I have been indescribably moved by the tributes and kind words that have followed my father’s passing, not only because of their emotion and sincerity, but because they demonstrate the undeniable impact he had on the world. Many have commented on how unfair it is that we should all be brought here today for this purpose far too soon.

“It is unfair, but whenever that makes me angry, I remember that, thanks to a quirk of fate, I had Ian Bell as a father. If life has been unfair to me, for the most part it has been unfair in my favour.

“If my father’s example has shown anything it is that we don’t have to accept unfairness.”

He continued by saying: “Don’t consign him to any kind of idealised history. If you find yourself thinking ‘they would never have got away with that when Ian Bell was around’, do something about it.”

At the committal, Holloway said: “We let Ian go with gratitude for what he meant to us in all his greatness and human complexity, promising to live our own lives with purpose and joy.”

During the service, some of Bell’s favourite music was played, including Elvis Costello’s I Write The Book and Robert Burns’s anthem for the common folk, A Man’s A Man For A’ That.

Particularly appropriate was Bob Dylan’s He Was A Friend Of Mine. Bell wrote a two-volume biography of Dylan published by Mainstream and the words of the song were very apposite yesterday: “He was a friend of mine, He was a friend of mine, Every time I hear his name, Lord I just can’t keep from cryin’, ’Cause he was a friend of mine.”